Saturday 24 February 2018

Computer says no to foil Hamilton in Baku

Rosberg celebrates his success (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Rosberg celebrates his success (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Daniel Johnson

Haring around city streets at more than 220mph, Lewis Hamilton found fixing a Formula One car with thousands of settings on one small steering wheel a little more complicated and precarious than pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del.

It was not so much a case of 'computer says no' in yesterday's European Grand Prix, more computer says try again, and again, before you stumble upon the right answer.

Hamilton did not find the right solution to his engine conundrum until too late, bringing an already disastrous weekend, made difficult in the first place by his woeful qualifying performance, to an unhappy conclusion.

The world champion had a stressful afternoon, coming home fifth, while team-mate Nico Rosberg was barely seen, serenely soaring into the distance to take victory in the inaugural race in Baku, wresting back control of the drivers' championship in the process. The lead is back up to 24 points.

Hamilton needed an instruction manual the size of a phonebook with him in the car to begin to solve the issue, but more frustratingly for the 31-year-old, the team knew precisely how to fix it yet could not tell him, thanks to Formula One's draconian radio restrictions.

There were plenty of sore heads trying to understand it all immediately after the race. Hamilton's description of having to fiddle with buttons on the steering wheel throughout was far more severe than any migraines in the paddock.

"Dangerous," Hamilton said. "I am just looking at my steering wheel for a large portion of the lap. All the way down the straight just looking at my wheel.

"All they can tell me is there is a switch error, so I am looking at every single switch thinking, 'Am I being an idiot here? Have I done something wrong?'

"I hadn't. I looked time and time again at the different switch positions and there was nothing that looked irregular."

The logic of the change to the rules was to put the drivers back in control and stop endless coaching from the pit wall.

But in this case, it was a technical issue which actually prevented Hamilton from giving us the race we all wanted to see.

He is from Formula One's old school and clearly believes the sport needs to return to a simpler time. Less computer, more man, as it were.

"There was no way Lewis could know what to change to solve it," Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, explained.

Eventually the Englishman returned to full power.

By then it was eight laps from the finish and he was some 20 seconds behind Sergio Perez, who ended with another impressive podium, his second of the year.

Straight after the race, Niki Lauda, the team's chairman, simply said that Rosberg and Hamilton had the same problem but the German just solved it quicker, adding to the caricature of him as the engineer and the Englishman as the instinctive but unthinking racer. But it was more subtle than that, an issue largely of the team's creation.

Rosberg got off the line well from Daniel Ricciardo and the two Ferraris, keeping the lead throughout.

Raikkonen ran second for a time, but was ordered to allow Sebastian Vettel through, giving the German runner-up spot.

The Finn, knowing he had a five-second penalty, did not stop Perez's charge when the Mexican dove down the inside on the final lap.

Hamilton crossed the line 20 seconds later, weary after a long day. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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